Clip vs. Magazine: It’s Important to Know The Difference

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Photo Credit – M62, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

M1 Garand 8-round clip, M14 20-round magazine, AR-15/M16 20- and 30-round magazines
M1 Garand 8-round clip, M14 20-round magazine, AR-15/M16 20- and 30-round magazines. Photo Credit:M62, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Throughout the ages, people have mistaken these two vastly different terms so much that some retailers use ‘clip’ and ‘magazine’ interchangeably. Gun owners constantly mistake the words as the same thing.

Nothing changed much. You still have people bickering on the internet about clips and magazines.

Even Merriam-Webster’s staff gave up and decided to call clips and magazines synonyms, which they are not. They are completely different.

This shouldn’t have turned into a dispute in the first place.

Let’s explain the difference between a clip and a magazine, look at a potential root cause of the confusion, and we’ll talk about cartridges, types of clips and mags, and other FAQs you might be wondering about.

What’s the Problem?

Usually, gun enthusiasts misuse ‘clip’ as a placeholder for ‘magazine’, and it’s a really slippery slope. When people get used to misnaming them, it’s over.

Personally, I don’t even trust the media to know the difference between clips and magazines. Important and popular news media have mistaken them countless times, and people listen to the news, which creates even more chaos.

Do nothing to solve this problem for years, and watch how language changes. It seems that people just went with this misnomer, and the grammar nazis accepted defeat and called it a day.

That said, even if you aren’t interested in terminology quarrels and honestly want to find out what the actual difference between a mag and a clip is, we salute you because that’s the exact information we’re here to divulge. But, do indulge us since we intend to get to the root of the problem first.

The WWII M1 Garand Might Be the Root of the Problem

We have no intention of hunting down the culprit for this pesky misnomer, as we can only speculate to no end. However, we have logical reasons to believe that the problem causing this chaos is a very old rifle.

Let’s go back to WWII.

wwii ww2 ruins

The clip and magazine confusion began with the M1 Garand, the favored rifle of the US soldiers in World War II. Although still not proven, this theory is the most likely story.

The ‘clip’ has a distant, but historically accurate purpose. You see, older rifles like the legendary M1 Garand use clips to load rounds into an internal magazine already built-in into the rifle. Their magazine is non-removable and was fed by a clip, and that’s all there is to it.

‘Clips’ pull their historical roots from stripper clips from bolt-action rifles like the British Lee Enfield, the trusty US Springfield rifle, the German Mauser, the Austrian Mannlicher, and the Russian Mosin-Nagant.

Stripper clips, or charger clips, were the fastest way to reload bolt action rifles like the M1 Garand (which also used single-shot clips) before semi-automatic magazines took over in the late 40s to the 50s and 60s.

The war ended, the Silent Generation veterans came back and started to call anything that loads rifles and pistols a ‘clip’, potentially causing all this confusion. It stuck, and now we have everyone and their grandma calling magazines clips, and vice-versa.

Confusing Magazines vs. Clips

However, if you do consider the multitude of terms regarding firearms and ammunition – breech, buckshot, bore, propellant, full metal jacket, grain, gouge, dummy, choke, etc – you have to admit that the list is endless.

Some are easy ones like bullet, barrel, stock, and most folks get the gist.

But then you have carbines, ACP, rifling, suppressors, and silencers, and what is a wadcutter anyway? This can be complicated for people who are firearms and hunting rookies.

Round clips and magazines are completely different and distinct ammunition components. It’s easy to mix them up, but understanding them can be crucial. If you want to be a gun expert, you need to know the difference between a clip and a magazine because it will help you understand firearms better.

What Is the Difference Between a Clip and a Magazine?

The purpose of clips and mags is that they hold the bullet in one place so that you won’t have to load the next round bullet by bullet.

The difference between a clip and a magazine is this: a clip feeds/loads the magazine, the magazine feeds the gun. End of story.

M1 Garand 8-round clip, M14 20-round magazine, AR-15/M16 20- and 30-round magazines
M1 Garand 8-round clip, M14 20-round magazine, AR-15/M16 20- and 30-round magazines. Photo creditt: M62, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A magazine has a spring, the clip doesn’t. The spring, also called a follower, is a component of the magazine upon which bullets rest.

As the spring pushes the bullets towards the mouth of the magazine, they stack together, thus feeding the firearm rounds.

Most firearms like submachine guns, rifles, semi-automatics, shotguns, and others use magazines.

What Is a Clip?

The ammunition clip is a storage device that stores individual rounds of ammo together on one device and goes directly into the magazine.

It’s designed to make reloading easier and the rate of fire faster. It improves efficiency, and it was made to load multiple rounds instead of one at a time.

If the rifle has an internal magazine, like on the SKS Carbine, or the M1 Garand we mentioned earlier, the clip loads ammo directly into the rifle. Usually, the clip is made of steel stamping.

Today, clips are uncommon for most modern firearms.

The most common types of clips are en bloc clips and stripper clips, made for internal magazines.

There are some stripper clips for removable (detachable) magazines and modern alternatives like the StripLULA for AR magazines. Here’s an example:

Stripper Clips

Stripper clips, also called ‘charger clips’ can hold a row of cartridges on a strip of metal. The magazine can be detached or is built into the firearm – it works either way.

7.92mm-mauser-5-round-stripper-clip-346-p
7.92mm Mauser 5 Round Stripper Clip. Photo Credit – Al9998, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s most likely the most popular type of clip and is used for internal box magazines.

You position the stripper clip on top of the box magazine and push the rounds inside the mag in a swift motion. The rifles are usually bolt-action rifles or are semi-automatic.

There’s an interesting piece of firearms called the Mauser C96, or the “Broomhandle”. It’s a semi-automatic WWI pistol, it has a top-loading box magazine, and it functioned with a stripper clip.

En Bloc Clips

en bloc clips
En Bloc Clips. Photo Credit – Photo Credit: Ryo Chijiwa, CC

We’ll use the M1 Garand rifle as an example for the last time. Promise.

En bloc clips are basically a cross between a clip and a magazine.

You can load ammo into the M1 Garand with en bloc clips from the top or the bottom of the internal magazine. The clip has an important part in the functionality of the firearm – if the en bloc clip is not loaded, the weapon won’t budge.

Stripper clips are removed after loading the ammo, but not the en bloc clips. You fully insert the en bloc clips into the magazine, stripping them of the ammunition, as they are loaded into the firearm.

When an M1 Garand fires its last round, you hear a sharp, hotel-lobby bell ring. That’s the en bloc clip.

The internal mag pushes rounds through the clip and into the chamber, and the en bloc clip is ejected from the firearm after firing the final cartridge.

That’s the main difference.

Full Moon/Half Moon Clips

Moon clips
Full and half moon clips.

Let’s talk about revolver cylinders.

They are not exactly magazines, but these concealed carry blasters use clips in a different fashion than rifles.

The technical term for the ammunition-storage of a revolver is called a wheel. You can say that it’s the revolver’s magazine.

The revolver’s wheel defies our definition that detachable magazines use springs to force rounds into the chamber. That’s why the revolver’s wheel is considered as the third type of container, in contrast to the two common types.

The revolver ammo cartridge is rimmed and is different from your regular pistol ammo which makes extraction from the chamber easier after firing.

The full moon/half moon clips are usually chambered in revolvers, and unlike their 9mm and .45 auto cousins, the chambering is in a revolving fashion, hence the name.

The clips are like stars. A half moon clip holds three, while a full moon one holds six rounds, and the clip makes reloading easier.

Revolver Speedloaders

.357 Mag S & W model 66-2
.357 Mag S & W model 66-2. Photo Credit: Mesinge2, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s some ingenuity.

Speedloaders reduce time and effort when you’re reloading concealed carry firearms like revolvers since they can load 6 chambers simultaneously.

You can find good deals on speedloaders at your local gun store or here.

Now, onto magazines.

What’s a Magazine?

From left to right: Mini-30 magazine [20 round], AK-47 magazine [30 round], SKS stripper clip [10 round] with alternating Wolf and Silver Bear ammunition, and SKS detachable magazine [30 round].
From left to right: Mini-30 magazine [20 round], AK-47 magazine [30 round], SKS stripper clip [10 round] with alternating Wolf and Silver Bear ammunition, and SKS detachable magazine [30 round]. Photo Credit: W3bj3d1, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Magazines are metal storage devices or chambers that can hold cartridges. They store cartridges and feed ammo into the rifle’s breech, as the ammo goes directly into the firing chamber.

Just to be sure, let’s repeat.

Bullets go into clips. Clips hold the bullets into place. Clips go into magazines. Magazines go into rifles. Mags have feeding devices springs (or followers, if you will). Clips don’t.

Magazines can be detachable like in some concealed carry weapons or most modern weapons that you know about, or they can be fixed and built-in, like the previous examples of old WWII rifles. Those are called internal magazines. Other than revolvers, all guns have magazines, be it internal, box, or detachable.

Detachable Magazines

BERETTA 10 ROUND 9MM 92FS DETACHABLE MAGAZINE, BLACK, PACKAGED - JM92F
Beretta Detachable Magazine

This may be the reason why people get confused about the clips and the mags.

Detachable mags became really popular in the 20th century when everything went semi-automatic. 

You fill magazines by hand. That’s why sometimes clips come in handy.

As you know, some handguns like the Beretta M9 and most modern firearms have detachable magazines. They can be taken out of the firearm, bullets or no bullets. You can load them with ammo manually or by using a clip.

Internal Magazines

SKS rifle internal magazine
SKS Rifle with Internal Magazine

As the name implies, these mags function on the inside and don’t go anywhere unless you’re disassembling the firearm. They all have the same function – they store ammo and feed it into the chamber.

We’ll talk about shotguns here as they’re another good example of a firearm with an internal mag. They have tube-shaped mags just below the barrel. 

In a pump-action shotgun, for instance, you feed each individual slug or shell with a spring-loaded follower into the chamber. That is, you feed the shotgun shells by hand.

Box Magazines

.308 WIN SHORT ACTION 10RD BOX MAGAZINE
.308 WIN SHORT ACTION 10RD BOX MAGAZINE

You’ll see box magazines on more modern rifles like the AR-15 assault rifle, automatic firearms, or other semi-automatic rifles. There are two variations – internal, and detachable.

Most bolt-action and semi-auto rifles have an internal box magazine, while the more conventional AR-15, AK-47, or the Ruger 10/22 have detachable box magazines.

The latter is the more efficient magazine, as we’ve pointed out, in contrast to the internal. 

Tubular Magazines

Tubular magazines feed rounds via tubes, springs, and a special firearm.

Usually, .22 rifles, shotguns like the Remington model 870 pump-action shotgun, and most lever-action rifles use this type of magazine. They are often under the barrel. 

Lever-action rifles load via levers and they rack the rounds manually for every shot. Semi-autos, on the other hand, use the charging handle and can chamber rounds of ammunition almost automatically, hence the name.

Are Clips Better Than Magazines?

It depends on a lot of factors and guns, and it’s not exactly about speed. That is, if you’re not in a war zone; then it might be.

I personally think that magazines are slightly more practical.

Of course, magazine-fed weapons can break or get damaged, and the weapon won’t function without it. They can also attract dust and grime, and require more maintenance than stripper clips, which can be easily cleaned.

A clip-fed, internal magazine is simply more reliable than detachable magazines.

However, detachable mags are easily replaceable with another. If your internal magazine gets damaged, you’ll have to replace or repair it, so it’s a trade-off situation, of sorts. To the run-of-the-mill hunter or your casual firearm aficionado, the practical aspect won’t matter and it boils down to preference.

How Many Bullets in a Clip Is Legal?

It depends on whether or not a state decides which magazines are large-capacity magazines.

In California, any mag that can carry more than 10 rounds in a clip is a large-capacity magazine.

Colorado doesn’t allow more than 15 rounds. It’s also illegal to sell high-capacity magazines unless the individual has owned the magazine since 2013.

There’s a lot of complicated laws surrounding this and we suggest you read more about your state’s laws here. Additionally, here’s more info on ammo laws from the NRA.

Do Glocks Have Clips or Magazines?

Man holding pistol. Glock gun in left hand.

Glocks utilize detachable magazines. So, yes. Glocks use magazines instead of clips.

The Glock uses an extended 33-round magazine, but you can also find other capacities like 10 or 17 rounds.

Glock magazines have stiff metal tubes inside the high-tech polymer casing, and it prevents deformation and damage.

The Glock is not to be trifled with.

Which Guns Use Clips?

As a reminder, today’s modern guns don’t use clips, but rifles like the M1 Garand and SKS have non-removable magazines that can be fed by a clip.

An AR-15 magazine is removable, but can also be fed by a clip.

How to Remember the Difference Between a Clip and a Magazine

While we’re at it, let’s also remind you why it should be simple to see the difference between a clip and a magazine by now.

The easiest way to tell the difference is that magazines have springs, and clips do not.

Think of a clip as a magazine loader, while the magazine feeds ammunition directly into the chamber. Makes sense, right?

You can take a good analogy like literal magazines, as an example, and think of newspaper clippings as clips. If you snip through newspapers you get clippings or clips. Keep in mind that gluing a lot of clips together can make a magazine.

I hope this little mnemonic trick helps.

Final Word

We talked about the reason for all this silliness, and we still can’t point fingers.

We could blame video games. We can also blame convenience problems. It’s pointless.

They both mean the same basic thing. They hold bullets for a gun. One takes nearly three times longer to say.

Clip. That’s one.

Ma-Ga-Zine – that’s three.

You might say it’s really not that of a big deal.

Knowing the difference between magazines and clips gives you credibility and expertise since many gun enthusiasts know that this is a very slippery slope. You can easily earn respect among your peers.

We can discuss linguistics all day if you want, but this is a gun show, not a school.

Still, the pen can sometimes be mightier than the sword, and this humble article proves it, along with the importance of proper terminology.

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Author

Brady

Hi there, I'm Brady and I'm the owner of GunMade.com. I have been an avid gun enthusiast and hunter since I moved to the Midwest over 15 years ago. It's my passion to share my knowledge and expertise to help you find the best guns in your price range.

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